Mr. Speaker, the House is debating today a question of considerable importance to Canada and indeed the world.
Members of all parties will know the frightening statistics which we have now become only too well aware that every year half a million women die as the result of bearing children either during childbirth or after childbirth, which in turn means in many cases that children die as well.
The statistics are terrifying. As I have said, 500,000 women worldwide and 25,000 children a day are dying as a result of malnutrition, as a result of disease, as a result of not having enough support, not having enough care.
It is entirely appropriate that the Government of Canada, along with the other G8 countries and the G20 countries, should recommit itself to dealing with this problem and challenge.
This question is one of the key goals that is set out by the United Nations in the millennium goals which Canada has signed on to, which we have agreed to participate in and to support. It has the focus and support I think of all parties.
I think it would also be fair to say that one thing that we have all learned from the Olympics and the Paralympics is that we are proudest as a country when we are setting a standard for the rest of the world. There was no question during the Olympics and the Paralympics that that is exactly what we did and the sense of pride that we all shared as Canadians was shared because we were indeed setting such a standard.
The reason we are having this debate is because of the government's own ambiguity on this issue. It has made it necessary for us in the official opposition, and I hope we are joined by all members of the House, in expressing the common view of Canadians on this subject that the government's various pronouncements, non-announcements, and various commentaries that have been made have left us with the impression that in adopting this important initiative at the G8, which is a continuation of the commitments that we made last year at the G8, not a new initiative but a continuation of a commitment, the government itself has shown some considerable inconsistency.
This is an opportunity for the government to clear the air and to vote for the resolution, making it very clear that we are not going to allow ideology to trump science. We are not going to allow a narrow view of what the problem is to make it more difficult for Canada to be successful.
The reason that we mention the previous example of the Bush administration is that the evidence is very clear that both with respect to the fight against AIDS and with respect to this question of maternal health in the United States in those Bush years, that is exactly what happened.
Ideology trumped science and we found example after example, where in applying for NIH grants for example having to do with AIDS, scientists were discouraged from using the words “gay, homosexual, condom or prostitute”. They were not supposed to mention these facts of life as being part of the reality of this horrible pandemic which has taken hold of the world over the last 30 years.
We do not want any such gag orders in Canada. We do not want any such ideology entering into the situation. We believe very strongly that we have to be clear about what the policies of Canada are, that we understand the world consensus which has developed and is very powerful and clear.
The consensus is absolutely crystal clear and is stated in all the international documents. It says very clearly that effective family planning is going to, even of and by itself, reduce maternal deaths by as much as 30%. It is important for us to be clear on that, and it is also important for us to understand that in so doing we are going to be advancing this cause and this issue very clearly.
There are several ways in which the government has so far failed to clear the air successfully. The answers in the House over the last few days could be perhaps summed up with a modest adaptation of a phrase that was supposed to have been used by Mr. Mackenzie King, “conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription”. That has now been replaced by the government with the phrase, “contraception if necessary, but not necessarily contraception”. That is not good enough for Canada. That is not the standard we expect to be applied.
My colleagues here will all understand that in African countries the public advertising on the subject of AIDS and on the subject of the impact of AIDS on the community is very direct and very blunt. There is no ambiguity about it. There is no reluctance to use the word “condom”. There is no reluctance to understand that it is only by making condoms widely available for everyone that we will ensure we will not be transmitting sexual diseases and we will not see young people, older people, family people and people of all backgrounds being affected by AIDS.
In Africa, married women are the main victims of AIDS at the present time, and this issue cannot be separated out from the issue of maternal health. We cannot pretend it is not part of a spectrum of issues about which we have to be blunt, candid and direct in our talk and our dealings. So that is the first contradiction, and the reason it is a contradiction is that the Conservative Party has decided this issue is too tricky, too difficult for some of its own base to have to deal with; so it is trying to send out code words and code language that will satisfy things.
We have been reliably informed that, in the Department of Foreign Affairs, people are not allowed to use the phrase “international humanitarian law”. The word “equity” is not supposed to be used or applied. Women were taken out as a target group with respect to the provision of Canadian aid by the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA.
So we have a series of contradictions. We still have a party that cannot quite come to terms with the full impact of death and destruction in the poorest countries. It cannot really come to terms with the reason women are being put in this position, this situation, and the number of steps that have to be taken to ensure women's lives are protected and children's lives are protected. “Women and children first” should be code words for all of us as we look and try to understand how it is that poverty, ill health and poor nutrition all go together to create a circle, unfortunately and tragically, a circle of death.
This is a challenge of our time. We talk often in the House about what are the key issues of our time. I have no doubt this is an issue for our time. To members in all parties, I say it is not a question of Canada's preaching to other countries, not a question of Canada's telling other countries how to deal with problems, but it is a question of Canada itself coming to terms with our own problems.
We are now in a situation where Cuba is more successful at dealing with maternal health than we are in Canada. Our statistics are worse than those in Cuba. Explain that. Explain how it would be that a country of our wealth, a country of our standard of living would still have a situation where 5.2 women out of 100,000 are losing their lives when the lowest numbers are 1.5 and 2 in the developed world.
Why is that? We do not keep the statistics carefully enough. However, we know one of the reasons is the appalling conditions on our reserves in the north of this country. The first nations people are the third world in our country. The poverty and deprivation can readily be seen simply by visiting reserves across the north, in all of Ontario and all of Quebec.
This can be seen everywhere. Poverty is not something that exists only in Africa or Latin America. Poverty is not just someone else's problem; it is also a Canadian problem. It is one of Canada's challenges. It is a challenge that we must all face together, because unfortunately, we have not yet really addressed the issue of poverty. Poverty is the cause of the serious problems facing women in first nations communities.
That is the inconsistency we see, and that is what we are trying to deal with.
The second major inconsistency I see is the policy of CIDA itself and the policy overall of the government.
In the last four years, CIDA has changed its policy of saying women and children are the priority. Women and children are not the priority, and equality for women and advancing the cause of women is no longer seen as a Canadian initiative of which the government wants to take charge and take responsibility.
If we do not face up to the fact that the promotion of the rights of women is what is going to improve maternal health, if we do not understand that connection, then we simply do not understand the issue.
To stand and say Canada is going to be launching this important initiative but we are not going to talk about women, we are not going to talk about condoms, we are not going to talk about contraception, we are not going to talk about what really matters and how we are going to do this, and by the way, we are going to cut $200 million from the budgets of the poorest countries, by Canadian transfers, and we are going to increase Canadian money going to the middle- and higher-income countries because that is the new CIDA policy of the government, to cut off those who are the poorest and pass on that money to other people, that is the inconsistency.
That is where we see a government that in fact does not seem to even know its own mind and has not been clear enough with Canadians about what needs to be done to address the issue.
If I may say so, I think it is time for this House to be very clear that we understand the connection between things. We cannot cut off money to Africa one week and then the next week say, by the way, we are going to be launching a real strategy on maternal health.
It makes no sense. We cannot cut off our investments in Africa, our humanitarian investments or our investments to help the world's poorest people. We cannot suddenly shut countries out of the CIDA system one week, and then the next week announce in Davos that we plan to introduce some excellent programs for women, because we believe in women and children.
The government has been going around in circles on this issue for the last two weeks, almost in a state of embarrassment. I am beginning to understand that the reason it is flying around in circles so much is that it has two right wings, and with two right wings the only possible direction is around in circles. That is why the balance is off.
It is important for us to focus on this question because it requires consistency. There is a transparency in the world that the government cannot avoid. Our fellow G8 countries know what the CIDA budgets are. Our fellow G8 countries know Canada's policies and how they have turned. They know that promoting the rights of women is no longer a priority for this particular Canadian government. They know what is inconsistent and what does not make sense in this regard.
The G8 countries know what Canada's own problems are. They know what is happening to our record, how we are doing in the world tables with respect to infant mortality and maternal mortality. These statistics are public. They are published and known. These countries know we are falling behind in some critical areas.
The G8 countries know that when the Prime Minister makes an announcement like the one he made in Davos, he is not being consistent with the foundations of what, in fact, his government and his party have been doing.
If the government is not going to be clear and transparent, then it is critically important for this House to state what the policies of the Government of Canada should be and how Canada should present itself to the world.
I started my remarks by pointing out that we are proudest as a country when we are setting a standard. We have to set a standard and, if we are going to set the standard, it has to be one that is clear. It has to be one in which we say with all humility that we have not been perfect; we have work to do as a country. We are not going into African villages and simply saying to do it the way we do it.
We understand we have work to do. We understand how these issues are connected. We understand that AIDS, maternal health, what is happening to kids and the overall level of poverty in a country are all connected. We also understand we have to be consistent if we are going to set a standard.
It is important for this House to take a stand, for this House to say clearly that, yes, half a million deaths among women every year is unacceptable. What we all see and have all known in our own lives as a moment of extraordinary happiness, which is the arrival of a child, instead for some is a moment of tragedy, a cause of hardship, of children being abandoned, and they in turn die in these circumstances.
Yes, the House needs to take a position. Yes, the Prime Minister is right when he says Canada should do this. But I say to the Prime Minister and to my friends in the party opposite that they have to be true, speak proudly, and be consistent in how we take on this issue as Canadians. It is simply not good enough for Canada to say here is our initiative and then start getting all mumbly-mouthed and unsure and unclear about how we are going to achieve the great goals we are setting for ourselves.
Let us be proud as Canadians of setting this standard. Let us set it for ourselves and then let us spend the money we need to spend to make it consistent with what we say needs to be done. Let us work with other countries in candour and honesty and openness. Let us talk to the world directly about why this is such a critical question and why it requires a consistent approach.
We need to be clear on the rights of women. We need to be advancing the cause of equality and what that means in the world. We need to be fighting discrimination against women. We need to be working hard to make sure women have the same rights and the same responsibilities not only in Canada but around the world. We need to be consistent and to understand that this effort starts at home and starts in Canada.
No child and no mother should be left in danger because of poverty, in danger because of their circumstances. That is the case today and it is something we need to deal with.
We need to be consistent with our aid policy. We need to make sure that our aid policy is entirely consistent with what else we are saying with respect to maternal and child health. We cannot be cutting help for the poorest countries and then turning around and saying we are going to deal with it in this way.
We have to get away from this situation where ideology trumps science, where ideology trumps what is in place. One only has to look at the Texas textbook situation to understand that the conservative movement, which the Prime Minister has called his personal source of inspiration, is transforming much of education and science in America by its determination to make these respond to ideology and not facts.
I do not want to see that imported into Canada. I want to see us stand strong as Canadians for the values we uphold, and then we can be proud because we are indeed setting a standard for the rest of the world.